[Author’s Note: Still swamped with work and grad school after recovering from illness, and with prepping for World Fantasy Con. There will be this awesome eBook giveaway courtesy of Apex Book Publishing, as long as I put all 100 of the CDs into their little paper case, and print up the stickers to seal them… Anyhow, in the mean time, here’s a short story of mine from SPACE SQUID! #8]
Dragon Came to Galveston to Die
The hurricane had stripped away most of the dead dragon’s scales. The giant dead thing looked like an oversized art project in the middle of Galveston Island. The powerful winds of the storm had smothered the corpse with lost signs, ruined automobiles, and smashed building pieces.
The smell of the ruined sea beast was ferocious, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Hurricane winds would return when the eye of the storm passed.
Then, every scavenger left alive on the island would followed the stink. Dogs and flies and sea gulls had already found a place in the mountain of meat to gnaw. After them, the other scavengers would come: people.
I could already see the news feeds coming. Journalists all over the world were going to rush right here to take pictures soon of this mountain of dead flesh, with all the island city destroyed around its footfalls like bombs had been dropping. Scientists would pick it all apart, and preserve all the little remaining pieces in scentless tubes of formaldehyde.
I was just another scavenger. I had to hurry. The eye of the hurricane was going to pass beyond me soon. When the storm was over, I knew nobody like me would be allowed so close to the amazing cadaver of the dragon that had walked ashore with the hurricane.
I should have been taking care of my ex-wife, right then. I should have been pulling her out of my ruined bomb shelter and scrubbing her cuts with anti-bacterial soap and Neosporin.
She was counting on me, and I had ditched her for the dragon.
A couple hours before the hurricane had made landfall, I walked on the beach. I watched the massive waves like wrestlers jumping off the high ropes. I looked across the water at the distant edge of storm, where the hardest rain came in like wet hellfire that’d be here soon. I was smiling because I had never imagined I’d get to ride out a category five.
Then, I saw what I thought was a capsized boat. I looked away. I didn’t want to see any dead bodies. I thought it would be exhilarating to walk along the beach with nobody but me and some Jack Daniels snaking through my liver and all the idiotic weather vans that rush to bad weather.
Later on I’d find out that it wasn’t a boat. It was the rising head of a dragon walking up the shelf at the front edge of the hurricane, coming to shore to get hit by lightning and die.
Before the storm, my sister begged me to go with her, to her husband’s folks in Dallas.
I shrugged. “I’ll wait here,” I said, “Somebody has to keep the looters away from my 401(k). I think my ex-wife will be sticking around, too. I haven’t seen her in a while.”
My sister had found me at a bar with three fat, old bikers from Arizona that had ridden over just to experience the storm. The bikers had made a deal with the owner to let them drink all they wanted during the storm if they chased off looters.
I liked them because they were riding out the hurricane like me. We were throwing back hurricanes in honor of the end of the world. They were my friends until my sister showed up.
I didn’t like how they were looking at my sister, drunk and dangerous like they were.
My sister drove me back to her place.
We had the talk we usually had right before she left.
When the storms came, I liked to sit in the bomb shelter in my basement and drink whiskey. I read comic books with flashlights. I alternated between whiskey and bottled water. I wandered the empty streets as much as I could, even after the bad winds hit, with all the windows boarded up and the rising tide and the electricity in the air from the storms and tornadoes flung from the spiraling fingers of the greater storm.
Sure I’ve been injured and cut up and I even broke some bones, but I rode out the hurricanes anyway. I loved doing it.
I had met my ex-wife that way, when we were both walking around in a deadly storm.
I was helping my sister’s husband board up windows. The clouds looked bad, but nothing rained on us, yet.
My ex-wife drove up to my sister’s house in her Japanese pickup with a case of wine coolers in the passenger seat.
My sister didn’t wave at my ex-wife. My sister gave me that look. She’s here.
“Hey, Jimmy!” shouted my ex-wife. My name’s not Jimmy, but my ex-wife always called me that. “Jimmy, I thought you’d be over here.”
“Just boarding up some windows,” I said. “You already got yours?”
She sipped a purple wine cooler. She drove with her windows down because her AC had been busted for years. Sweat pooled in the rolls of fat below her chin. Her clothes were damp with it over her wide body. She disgusted me when she was all sweaty like that. She shrugged. I had to think a moment to remember that I had asked her a question.
“That a yes?” I asked.
She said, “I guess I got those windows boarded up.”
“You guess?” I asked.
“A guy friend said he’d do it while I was going to the liquor store up past Friendswood. Galveston’s all dried out. No booze left to buy. Maybe the guy didn’t get the windows, though. I got insurance. I don’t give a shit.”
“Who’d you get?”
She waved her hand at me with a limp wrist like a gay guy. She did that sometimes when she was talking about guys that weren’t bastards to her like me. She did it, mostly, when she had too much to drink to drive safely. “Some guy you don’t know,” she said. “He lives on the corner. Big guy. School teacher. He wanted me to come with him.”
“You ain’t leaving?”
Her voice dropped the affectations. “You ain’t leaving, either, Jimmy,” she said, “You going to your basement?”
It was my turn to shrug.
“I don’t want to be alone. If something happens, I want to have somebody there to help me. I may not like you, but I still trust you.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t want to be alone, either. You want to come to the bomb shelter?”
She smirked at me. “Thought you’d never ask.” She knew I’d let her come down with me.
My ex-wife and I had that same talk before we were married. When we were in trial separation we had that talk, again. Our divorce was nasty, but even in the middle of the seventh week, we hunkered down together, fucked and fought and loved every stinking, dangerous minute of it during the storm.
My sister grabbed my shoulders hard and pulled me in close for a hug. She whispered awful things in my ear about my ex-wife that were mostly true. I shook her husband’s hand. Her husband didn’t seem to get the tension in the air between those two women. I said good-bye to my nieces and nephews, ruffled their hair because they hated it when I ruffled their hair, and I got into my ex-wife’s nasty Japanese truck.
We balanced the case of wine coolers on the arm rest between the seats. It fit, but I had to press against the door and hold onto the big box with both hands.
We went to my ex-wife’s place first for the rest of her supplies. We loaded everything in the cabin of her pickup because the rain was going to be here any minute now, and the wind was already strong enough to push cars around.
We passed some weather vans while driving to my place, and no one else.
I lived near the northeastern shore. My house was one block behind an overpriced motel, and two blocks from the beach. I never saw a sunrise from there because that beach-front tourist trap blocked my view. Beyond the eyesore, the stairway down the high surge wall led directly to the water’s edge.
My house had a bomb shelter built by a crazy ex-military engineer back in the seventies. I wasn’t convinced it would work for a nuke, but it worked for hurricanes.
I kept the shelter well-stocked with comic books and manga. I called my comic book collection my 401(k) because it was worth more than the house.
I wasn’t big on canned goods, but I had some of those. I had more alcohol than food. I had a bed. I had a couch. I had a TV with cable for the weather channel. I had a battery-powered shortwave for when the TV died. I had a record player with a hand crank and a bunch of awful old records that I had picked up at a garage sale.
My ex-wife kept things here, too. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom was full of her old make-up and pills. The dresser had bits of clothing that she never bothered to take home.
She rummaged through the medicine cabinet until she found some valium. She smiled at me. She shook the bottle. “I’m glad you don’t spring clean, Jimmy,” she said, “Want some?”
“I’ll stick to the whiskey.”
“Hey, Jimmy, you need help?”
“Help with what?”
“Boarding up your windows.”
“Oh,” I said. I frowned. “Glad you reminded me. Damn near forgot.”
I wandered off. Just like her to go digging for ancient valium before she even sat down.
I boarded up my windows. The motel usually caught the worst of the wind, but there was no harm in being careful.
Back in my basement, my wife was flipping channels on the TV, but all of the stations were white static.
We didn’t know this, but one of the things the dragon had done below the waves was tear through all the phone lines and TV cables that ran under the water from the mainland. We weren’t going to get anything but radio for weeks and weeks.
If we had a decent signal, we’d be hearing all about how something in this storm was causing all kinds of problems underwater and how a Navy submarine that should have been fine was simply gone and a few oil rigs that had been evacuated for the storm had their legs knocked out from under them. We didn’t see that, though. We heard from the shortwave how the hurricane had reached category five and was aiming at us on Galveston Island like a laser-guided missile.
The shortwave didn’t talk about any of that. They just talked about weather conditions and evacuation points. Shortwaves don’t speculate during emergencies. That’s what cable news is for.
That gulf water had gotten hot, hot. That’s what they talked about on the radio. Water as hot as this caused big, muscular hurricanes crawling at 14 miles per hour like a lumbering, fat biker in a drunken rage.
My ex-wife smiled at me with lazy eyes and a white gloss in her eyes. She was stoned. “Hey, Jimmy,” she said.
“Shut up,” I said, “I’m trying to listen to the shortwave.”
“Fuck the weather. I want to talk. We haven’t seen each other since the last one. I want to catch up. I want to know what’s been going on since the last hurricane.”
“You remember the last time there was a category five coming right at us like this? I mean right, straight at us?”
“Jimmy, do you know why I always get wasted when I’m down here? Listen, I’m trying to talk to you. Do you know why I get wasted?”
“You don’t like my comic books?”
“Because you never liked to fuck me when I was fucked up. I like this thing we do, but I don’t want to fuck you again. I don’t love you anymore. I did once, but I don’t anymore. We’re just old friends, and that’s it. I’ve got my school teacher, now.”
“Darling, where did you hide those wine coolers?”
“Not man enough for whiskey, yet?”
“If you get some alcohol in you, you’ll sleep like a baby with the valium and I won’t have to talk to you, you crazy weirdo. Don’t talk all serious, all right?”
“I love you, too, Jimmy. You need a drink more than I do.”
“I do,” I said, “Do you remember any category fives?”
“Remember the time the cathedral tower got knocked in half?”
“That was a three, or it was aimed somewhere else and we caught a little finger of it,” I said, “We’ll see what’s left of the city when everything’s over. If we’re still here, I’ll be happy to escort you around town. Walk’d be good for you, honey.”
“That’s so mean, Jimmy,” she said. “You used to like me just like I was. Carmen Garcia at church told me you were dating some black lady with kids.”
“Yeah, my new lady lives in Friendswood. She cleared out days ago for her mom’s place with her boys. Kansas City, I think. Her boys are trouble. Every time I show up they break eggs in my car.”
“Good for you, Jimmy,” she said, “You always were good with bad kids.”
I dug around a bit until I found my whiskey. I turned down the short wave so we wouldn’t be listening to it constantly in our skulls when we were trying to relax and enjoy the hurricane. I pulled out a comic book I hadn’t read, yet, that I had been saving for just this kind of a hurricane. It was an old one I picked up off eBay, an early Maxx I had never read before.
My ex-wife lay back in the bed and loosened her clothes. She took off her shirt. She had on a sports bra underneath, holding back a flood of sweaty, flabby flesh. pools of sweat can’t hold flesh She put her shirt in the dresser that devoured all her clothes.
After a while- I guess she was bored- she rolled over and said. “Hey, Jimmy.”
I grunted at her.
“Do you really think I’m getting too fat?” She touched her stomach.
“Yes,” I said, “Why do you ask?”
“Really? I thought you liked it.” she said. She played with her belly, sensuously kneading the flabby tissue like it was supposed to seduce me. I admit, it had worked once upon a time. “You’re not supposed to tell a woman she’s getting fat, Jimmy.”
“Don’t even joke about that,” she said, “You know I would.”
“And I’ll win because you’re fat and anyone can see it and if you ask me a question in a court of law I’ll have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the goddamn truth. You’re fat.”
“Don’t be such a son of a bitch, Jimmy.”
“And you shouldn’t ask me questions when you don’t want me to tell you the truth. We ain’t married no more,” I said. “Your nose is still cute.”
“Thank you, Jimmy.”
We stopped talking a while. She rolled over onto her other side, and her mountainous rear was looking at me with the two back pockets of her jeans like hippopotamus eyes.
After I finished half the bottle of whiskey and two more comic books I’d been saving for a hurricane, I grabbed my rain coat and galoshes and told my ex-wife I was going for a walk before the worst hit.
I got out on the sidewalk along the wall that separated the city from the beach. I walked down the empty streets, avoiding all the weather reporters that seemed to think I wanted to give them a statement. I flipped them all off. I slurred something foul at them because the whiskey had hit me and I couldn’t keep it out of my speech. They let me pass on in peace. I took the stairs down to the dirty sand, but I didn’t make it halfway down the steps before I had to run back up to the road. The waves were pushing all the way up to the wall, splashing up all over the road.
There, I saw that capsized boat out in the distance.
It wasn’t a boat. It was the eye ridge of a dragon, looking above the water at the island in front of the hurricane.
I sickened me, because I thought it was a boat. I turned back towards home.
The clouds started to drizzle.
I hurried back to my basement and my whiskey and my comic books and my ex-wife.
When I got down, she had her pants off and sat on the edge of the bed in her sports bra and granny panties folding up some of my comic books into origami cranes.
I was pissed at first, but then she showed me how she was taking the pages from the piece of shit comics that weren’t worth a dime, and I didn’t mind. She had torn into a couple of Archies I had gotten as a gift from my brother-in-law. He knew I liked comic books and those were his favorite when he was a kid. I didn’t mind losing those. I kept them around in case I needed to start a fire.
I sat down with my wife, and sipped the other half of the bottle of whiskey and folded sailor hats because I couldn’t do cranes. I put a hat on me. I put a hat on her. I put a hat on the busted television and the radio. I put a hat on each bedpost. I put hats on our canned goods and each individual bottle of whiskey. My ex-wife kept at cranes. I didn’t think anyone could make cranes with rectangular paper, but she had been an art major before she dropped out of college.
She asked me about the weather like it was a normal thing to do.
“It’s just starting to get nasty out there,” I said. “Saw a capsized boat out in the water, where it’s raining. Maybe when the storm really hits we’ll get rid of those fucking weather men and then we can walk around in peace.”
“Fucking weathermen. It’s weather porn is what it is.”
Outside, where we couldn’t see it, the dragon’s head had popped over the edge of the water. He was walking up the shelf like coming in out of the rain. He was at the leading edge of the worst of the hurricane, smoke leaking out of his nostrils like two exhaust pipes.
The weathermen couldn’t quite make out what that thing was in the distance. Helicopters thought it was some kind of debris from one of the destroyed oil tankers washing in to shore. The scales were black and glossy like they were covered in oil. The eye ridges looked like the briny hulls of wrecked sailboats, each one as big as a large yacht. The eyes were black, too, all pupil. I don’t know if its eyes could see up on shore. Its huge eyes were made for the bottom of the ocean, where light that filtered down to the bottom had to be collected like flecks of invisible gold just to see a few inches.
I drank some more whiskey. I read some more comic books. I had trouble figuring out how to get one page separated from the other because the whiskey sank deep into my fingers.
“You drunk enough to tell me I’m thin and pretty?”
“Not yet,” I said, slowly, “Gimme a minute.”
“Remember when a van got rolled and a couple had to beg a ride with some other weather guys?”
“I think they bring extra vans now so they can get that shot of one getting knocked around.”
In our room with the short wave turned way down, and cheerful origami cranes covered in colors and bad jokes, and goofy sailor hats all over everything, we were completely unaware of the real news outside.
The dragon’s head had risen completely from the water, as big as a battleship, and covered in black scales. The head of the creature was clearly above the high waves. The giant neck like a living skyscraper, held the pendulous skull of the creature above the waves. There was no mistaking what it was.
With eye-ridges and black scales and the distinctive curves of the maw and the face like an evil iguana’s it had to be a dragon. They were already calling it a dragon on the news.
Helicopters and airplanes brave enough to risk the storm brought cameras close. The dragon didn’t notice them. The head moved with the loping rock and bob of something with legs way down below the water, not like something swimming. It was walking across the ocean floor. The neck kept growing and growing up out of the water like it would never stop. The huge nostrils puffed bursts of steam that briefly obscured the dragon’s head behind the rippling atmospheric distortions of extreme heat.
After a long while, shoulders emerged, and a four-legged creature’s spiny back. The shoulders and hips rotated in each hulking stomp. Black scales glistened from the searchlights of helicopters and film crews, braving the storm just to get a shot of the dragon.
The bottom of the sea is still a mystery. We didn’t know giant squid existed until somebody started pointing at the injuries on whales that hunted way down deep. Whole colonies of living organisms thrive and die in a vast, dark desert. We have never truly shined our lights long enough to see the down deep world.
I can only imagine it climbing up from the rift between tectonic plates. The dragon marched to shore. It warmed the waters before it. And this hurricane came for us in the dragon’s steaming hot wake, strong enough to have washed all life off Galveston Island.
My ex-wife and I fucked like drunks in my bomb shelter. Both of us were calling out the names of the other person we were supposed to be fucking right now. We weren’t making love. We were fucking. We were using each other’s bodies. We were leaving bruises and bite marks. We’d probably start hitting each other if I lasted that long. I didn’t last long. I didn’t care about getting her off, and I didn’t care if she whined about it, resorting to her own two fingers.
After I was done, I wiped myself off with my discarded shirt, and threw the cloth on the vibrant origami cranes that had been watching us like curious fairies. My ex-wife still had her sailor hat on, and when I was fucking her, I was staring at the picture of some blonde bombshell that was about to get saved from certain death from a cheap, ruined Batman comic. I imagined the bombshell about thirty-six and brown-skinned with luxurious black hair, like my girlfriend. I didn’t want to think about the fat, effeminate walrus my wife was trying to imagine.
“I want to go up and see the fucking storm,” I said.
She didn’t say anything. She was still trying to get herself off.
“Do you want to come with me?”
She gave up. “Sure, Jimmy,” she said, “If I can walk.” She reached around for her clothes.
I put my pants on, and pulled my rain coat over that. It was sticky and humid with just the rain coat on, but this wasn’t really the time to worry about being sweaty.
The wind howled up above us. I heard it screaming. I heard the clatter of wooden and metal things ripped down the road. I couldn’t see out any of the windows, so I couldn’t see what was happening outside.
This was only the beginning of the real storm, when the mighty winds ripped the roofs off houses and buildings and any car out of a garage ended up rolled through a wall or a house or even out into the Gulf. The beach was going to shrink all around the island. Chaos and erosion ruled the streets.
My ex-wife touched my door knob. “Sounds like a real fucking hurricane out there,” she said.
Sirens wailed in the distance. We heard the wind like fire all around us. We felt the wind rattling at our walls like banshees in chains.
I said, “So open the goddamn door, already.”
“Stand back, baby,” she said.
She turned the knob and gave the door a push against the wind. She couldn’t open it. I took over. I turned the knob. I pushed hard with my shoulder. The wind caught the crack of the door and tore it straight open. It slammed hard against the side of my house. I winced at that. Then, the door bounced back into my face and pounded me in the face.
My nose broke like eggshells. I crumbled onto my foyer floor. All this blood gushed on my linoleum.
My ex-wife flipped me over. I looked up at her, and the wind tore at her hair and her clothes, but she was calm and helping me. She ran to my kitchen and came back with a roll of paper towels, and ice in a damp dishrag. She pressed the ice against my face. She cleaned me up, and my floor.
I didn’t say anything. I sat up, dazed. I looked out at the doorway. Just after I’d been hit, the wind tore my door off and down the street. I was looking directly at the house across the street, and the motel behind that, obscured by the sweeping rains.
The dragon’s first step on solid ground was on top of that motel. A giant lizard foot, at least as big as the motel, crushed the structure like it was just a sandcastle held together with Elmer’s glue. The impact rippled through the ground like an earthquake. The destructive crush pushed soundwaves through the hard rains loud enough to make my fillings rattle. My ex-wife, committed to my injury, and more than a little intoxicated on valium and wine coolers, didn’t seem to notice the end of the world.
The glistening black scales and those talons as large as tractor trailers rippled in the rain. I saw the gigantic ankles of the creature angling and bending because the huge and terrible body was overhead, moving: walking over us.
I gasped. I dropped the ice pack.
“Honey, it’s going to be okay,” said my ex-wife. She reached for the icepack.
I tapped her shoulder and pointed at the doorway.
She turned briefly, and then turned back to the ice pack. Then, she turned back to the leg in the motel. She screamed.
I stood up, and tried to grab her arm. She hit me and ran for the bomb shelter. I shouted at her. “I have to see this!” I said.
I heard my basement door slam shut. I heard the short wave turned up louder. I heard human voices describing Galveston’s own Godzilla emerging from the waves and walking ashore, destroying everything the hurricane didn’t.
Anyone left on the island was told to get into basements and wait for the military response.
My ex-wife screamed at me through the basement door to get back down there.
I ran into my front yard fast. The wind picked me up and put me down where I wasn’t trying to be. I snagged the trunk of an old, craggy tree and I jammed my foot into a solid fork in the branches that withstood the storm enough to keep me alive.
I looked up at the dragon walking over my head with huge, lumbering feet. I had to squint on account of the rain, and I could barely see the body of the thing where the hurricane clouds swallowed the top of the creature. Mostly I saw its legs, like demon redwoods. I saw these big, fucking claws. I heard the sirens and the screaming winds. Trucks and cars rolled down the street with no driver to catch in the monster’s toes. A piece of roof was tangled up in a sailboat’s mast and inched along the beach past the leg that had smashed the motel.
Shattered bits of motel concrete and steel had mangled the side of my neighbor’s house across the street.
I hung on for my life. Brittle raindrops jammed into my busted nose like porcupine needles. The winds tore at my clothes. My raincoat was a yellow flag on a tree trunk. I hung on for dear life. I watched the dragon up above my head.
He had gotten pretty far by now. He was most of the way up the island. Two of his other feet had landed on the shore, and only his back left foot was still in the water. His paddle-like tail wagged with the winds like the dragon was trying to use his tail to keep the hurricane alive.
Lightning crashed and lightning crashed. The thing kept coming. The foot through the motel lifted off like some kind of lumbering rocket ship. I saw someone’s dead body in the crushed motel, but I couldn’t see much else in all that rain. I couldn’t make out if it was a man or a woman, just that I knew that particular curve of the shadowy rubble was once human and alive.
The third foot came soaring through the air from the black horizon. I watched it rise up into the sky from the waves in the shrouded, stormy, awful horizon. The big woosh of water rushing into the empty space rose over the storm sounds.
The foot swept through the air towards me, towards my little street and my house with my boarded up windows and my comic book 401(k) in the basement with my terrified ex-wife. I clung to that bent-up old tree for dear life just a yard or two away.
The last foot came down around me. Between two of the three front claws, my tree remained alive with me in it. The wind stopped while I was nestled between the black, sea-stinking, steaming-hot claws of the dragon. The ponderous steps of the giant creature meant that I got to sit there, nestled in the shelter of the monster’s foot for a very long time.
My house had been smashed open. The old bomb shelter, under the basement, was probably the only thing left. I heard my ex-wife screaming a little while. Then it stopped when the dragon’s giant foot took off again. The wind came back for me. I had managed to really wedge myself in good to the forks in that old tree.
My ex-wife called out my real name into the wind. I could barely hear her. I didn’t have the strength to call hers back.
The beast didn’t live very long out of the water. It walked up, and got all four feet on the island, towering over the whole city like an elephant over ant mounds. The dragon turned around as if it wanted to go back into the water, its head swinging around like it was completely confused.
Then, before the dragon got anywhere, it collapsed into a heap across the city of Galveston. The snout destroyed the famous aquariums shaped like glass pyramids. The paddle tail smashed the streets where the Mardi Gras parade rivaled New Orleans for carnal sin.
I was still clinging to that tree hard, all through the first wave of the hurricane. I couldn’t do anything else but hang on. The wind was pushing at my back hard, and tried to take me away with my rain coat. I had a good spot on that old tree, right in a solid fork where I could jam a foot in, and let the wind push me into the split trunk. It hurt like crazy, but I didn’t let go. I was there for hours until the eye landed..
By the time the eye had come to look at the wreckage the hurricane had wrought, I had no feeling from my shoulders down to my hands, and my ankle was probably sprained. I had killed a few nerves in my palms and arms, and I’d never really get feeling back in a few places. My leg’s still scarred from where the tree bit into me for hours. But I was still alive in the eye of the storm.
The hurricane winds had stripped the scales of the dead dragon, each of them like a tinted car windshield ripped up and away. Red-pink flesh and a puddle of organs were left inside the bones, with the debris that blew through the rib cage..
When the eye of the storm came, I let go of my tree. I heard my ex-wife screaming for help. I shouted at her that the fucking thing was dead, and that I had to see it, to get right up to it and touch it if I could. She cursed me and my mother and my sister and shouted that she was going to drown if I didn’t save her.
I didn’t hesitate a moment.
I loped on my bum ankle as fast as I could down the ravished city streets hopping over tree limbs and cars and pieces of buildings until I got right up to the massive body of the dragon that had come here to die.
I saw it like a new mountain in front of me, most of the scales already blown off, and the giant, wet bones and flesh catching all that debris. The awful stench was already there. The boiling saltwater that it had used for blood (if the scientists that came much later were right) had seeped out of the ruined skin and the torn scales. That steaming water cooked whole neighborhoods. All the grass was limp and dead. All the tree trunks had fallen over with roots cooked like noodles. I saw dead bodies (the three fat bikers, dead because they were just like me) steaming in the streets, empty eye sockets leaking fluids where the eyeballs had burst in the heat. I felt that dragon heat rise up my shoes. I took a moment to see if my rubber soles were going to melt.
The boiling brine had cooled enough in the storm winds and the rains for me to walk over to the dragon.
I was there before the scientists came. I was there before the National Guard could put up the yellow tape. I was there, alone, in the eye of the hurricane with the dragon. I touched the wet, pink flesh that felt like a steaming sponge.
I touched it again, on the exposed bone, where it was hard, yet rubbery like a shark’s cartilage.
I felt the first winds rising up at the edge of the hurricane’s eye. I looked around for shelter, and saw something large and black and beautiful and I knew what it was immediately. I went for it as fast as I could over the broken glass and the rising winds.
I pulled a dragon scale from the inside of an empty, upside-down news van that had caught one through the cracked windshield. I could barely hold the scale with my wounded hands after I had clung to a tree for hours on the windy side of a category five hurricane.
I took the scale into the first decent shelter I could find on that destroyed street, inside half of a coffee shop the dragon had destroyed. I hustled into the back rooms, and got a first aid kit from off the wall, along with some bottles of designer tea and water.
I heard the rain coming and the thunder belching deadly winds across the island. The hurricane was far from over. I waited it out, there, popping aspirin pills and doing what I could for all my scrapes and cuts and bruises with that first aid kit.
I wondered if my ex-wife had drowned. I wondered what she’d say to me if she hadn’t drowned.
After the hurricane, I wandered out again with my scale to see this dragon’s ruined corpse covered in debris. Billboards and auto parts and black rooftops and tree limbs and millions of leaves of lost paper and all the stinking things that had been picked up and thrown from the industrial buildings along the harbors was like monster paper mache.
Already, the first responders were there, cordoning off the flesh of the dragon. They asked me if I needed help. I ran off before any of them could take the dragon scale from me.
When the scientists rushed in to the destroyed city, they said that this dragon had died because of all the lightning. The dragon had been like a giant conductor pushing through all the storm clouds, and every ounce of lightning hit it on the head and neck, and even though the creature was hot with boiling saltwater instead of blood, steaming from its nose, the thing was not built for lightning. It didn’t take too many hits to the face before the creature collapsed into a dead, twitching heap, its flesh cooked off, and those gorgeous black scales torn away like a roof with no nails to hold the shingles down.
After that, I didn’t have my home anymore, or my 401(k). I moved in with my beautiful black woman Trailer trash from Galveston will *never* live post-Obama in this lifetime and her two wicked boys on the mainland in Friendswood.
My ex-wife left her school teacher, and her house, for San Antonio, where hurricanes are only a rainstorm at the end of a bad reputation.
When the eye of the storm came, I had run to the wall of melted dragon flesh, and not to her trapped in that ruined bomb shelter, with the rainwater filling up the floor at her feet with help from a busted pipe and filling up and filling up a little bit by a little bit until it was up to her waist and she didn’t know if she was going to live or die when the eye arrived and I wasn’t there to pull her free from the black water and floating cranes and sailor hats like capsized ships.
Then the eye passed and the water started to rise again and I was gone and she watched this water slowly swallow her until she was able to swim to the top of the flooded shelter, and the wind tore at her clothes and she pulled herself up into the neighborhood that had been completely destroyed and all the winds were still blowing at the back end of that hurricane, and she had nowhere to go, and all that debris was flying everywhere and she didn’t know if I was alive or dead.
She didn’t know what to do, how to survive.
After the worst of the storm, I strolled down the street with this big, beautiful dragon scale like I had just achieved victory and this was my trophy from another world.
I saw her sitting on the curb in front of my ruin. She stood up. She turned her back to me. She walked away.
I knew she and I would never speak to each other again about anything.
When the hurricanes come next summer, I’ll get into my lady’s car with her boys, and we’ll drive inland. I’ll carry that beautiful, black dragon scale – which is all of my worldly possessions right now – all the way to Kansas City. I’ll watch the weather men shouting like fools into microphones sandwiched between a news ticker and satellite photos of the hurricane from space. Sonar will spin away in the corners of the screens in case another dragon walks to shore.
At night, when everyone else is asleep, I’ll sneak away to the garage in Kansas City.
I’ll polish my scale until I can see my warped reflection in the black.
The scale, when it’s all polished up, looks like the surface of the Gulf. I can take it with me wherever I go: the deep water, the terrible wind and rain, the destruction, and the end of the world, and me right there flipping off newsmen, and cursing the national guard, right at the edge of all that shit, polishing my black dragon scale.